How To Get Money Back on Flights When You Didn’t Buy Trip Insurance (And Other Airline Tips)
It pays to read the fine print.
It’s been the summer of flight mayhem. Airport delays and cancellations threaten to upend every vacation, and getting angry with customer service won’t always get you your money back. However, there is something that might help: taking the advice of TikToker and lawyer Erika Kullberg.
In a series of TikTok videos, Kullberg shares tricks for getting money back on delayed, canceled, or “bumped” flights. (Bumping is when an airline moves you from the flight you booked to another one later in the day.) And these tricks are the real deal; Kullberg gets them from the terms and policies created by airlines and the US Department of Transportation (DOT).
To learn about the policies that will help you get your money back, continue reading below.
If you are “bumped,” you may be entitled to up to $1,550.
Involuntary denied boarding occurs when an airline selects passengers who must give up their seats. Usually, this is because the airline overbooked the flight. (Airlines sometimes overbook flights in the hopes that not every passenger will arrive on time.)
To quality for involuntary denied boarding compensation, you must have:
- A confirmed reservation.
- Checked-in to your flight on time.
- Arrived at the departure gate on time.
In addition, you’re only eligible if the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival time. Here’s how much the DOT requires airlines to pay you (in cash) for a domestic flight:
- 0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No compensation.
- 1 to 2 hour arrival delay: 200 percent of one-way fare. Note: Airlines may limit the compensation to $775 if 200 percent of the one-way fare is higher than $775.
- 2+ hours arrival delay: 400 percent of one-way fare. Note: Airlines may limit the compensation to $1,550 if 400 percent of the one-way fare is higher than $1,550.
For international flights, a one to four hour delay will get you 200 percent (or up to $775) of your one-way fare, and a delay over four hours gets you 400 percent (or up to $1,550).
Better yet, airlines must pay you on the same day or within 24 hours.
Some airlines will compensate you for delays.
The DOT does not require airlines to compensate travelers when their flights are delayed (unless flights are significantly delayed — more on that below). However, some airlines will anyway in the spirit of good customer service.
For instance, Kullberg shares that JetBlue may offer you compensation for a delayed flight as long as the following conditions are true:
- The flight was delayed due to a “controllable irregularity.” (Bad weather does not count.)
- Alternate transportation that is scheduled to depart within one hour of your original departure time is not available.
Here’s how much you may be able to receive:
- 3 to 3:59 hour delay: $50 credit
- 4 to 4:59 hour delay: $100 credit
- 5 to 5:59 hour delay: $150 credit
- 6+ hours: $200 credit
Here are other airlines that offer compensation for delayed flights:
- Southwest Airlines. According to its Contract of Carriage, Southwest offers re-accommodations for flights that don’t operate “according to Southwest Airlines published schedule” and flights with significant delays. The airline will book you on the next available flight (with space available) at no additional charge or refund the unused portion of your fare. The catch: You have to have a confirmed ticket, and you have to request it. (Southwest may also offer additional compensation.)
- Alaska Airlines. If Alaska caused a flight delay of more than three hours, ask your airport customer service agent how to receive a relevant discount off a future Alaska flight. Note: The delay must be at least four hours long, and the delay must have occurred between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time. These rules don’t apply if a worker’s strike or bad weather caused the cancellation.
You can always get a full refund for a canceled or significantly delayed flight.
As the the DOT states, “A consumer is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the consumer chooses not to travel.” This means that you can get a refund to your bank account (not just a travel voucher) for any canceled flight and service fees, even if the reason was bad weather. Airlines must issue refunds promptly, or within seven business days if you paid with a credit card.
In addition, “A consumer is entitled to a refund if the airline made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel.” Keep in mind that DOT has not defined a significant delay:
“Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors – including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances. DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund following a significant delay on a case-by-case basis.”
Bonus: Certain airlines may offer compensation on top of your refund, like JetBlue.
Hotel bonus: If you need a hotel room and your airline does not offer hotel accommodations for canceled or delayed flights, your credit card company may reimburse expenses up to $500 per ticketed passenger, according to Kullberg.
You don’t always have to settle for a travel voucher.
If you had to cancel a flight for an unexpected reason, and your airline only issues you a travel voucher that expires next year, try this workaround.
Kullberg explains that you can first call or email the airline and ask them to extend the voucher. Many airlines will do so. If this doesn’t work, book a flight with the voucher and cancel it within 24 hours. In that instance, you are entitled to a full refund (as stated by the DOT).
Be sure to read the DOT’s refund policy in full to make sure you understand your rights, and we hope you have a safe flight.